A Tern in Treble

Welcome to the end of an extremely productive month.  Think I cranked out like 15 posts in my big push to get some of the Texas Gulf Coast birding collection out.  Pretty much got through most of the topics I wanted to, but now looking at a similar goal for February – unfortunately, I still need to process those pictures before those will be ready.  In the meantime, thought I would go with a post that was alluded to in my Pelican vs Cormorant post (link here).

For my 16th post of the month going with a bit a dramatic, if not alarming experience also witnessed at Seawolf Park in Galveston, TX back in January 2017.

Tern Caught in Fishing Hook at Seawolf Park, Galveston, Texas in January 2017

If you are not familiar with this bird, it is a member of the Tern family.  These birds are pretty common in the area and spend their days patrolling the waterways for fish and shrimp that unsuspectingly venture to close to the surface.  These Terns are truly a joy to watch as they spot their prey and hit the water with shocking force.  Will say, they are easier to watch than actually get a decent picture of with big glass.  Hand holding the Beast was putting my skills to the test with these aerial acrobats.  Having just witnessed the comical feather-fu minutes earlier, my spirits were up and a giant smile painted my face – was thinking how fun that post was going to be, while getting a few shots in the tin of the Tern’s hunting.

Tern Caught in Fishing Hook at Seawolf Park, Galveston, Texas in January 2017

Sadly, my heart took a turn for the worse.  My smile was turned to pure shock and utter disbelief as a new scenario unfolded before me … one I will never forget.

Hit the jump to learn what changed my happiness so quickly.

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With Skim Please

Feels like I’ve been away from the blog for weeks!  Alas, it has only been but a day or two.  I’ve been busy with getting some work done around the house and trying to get ahead of the backlog that is starting to pile up at my day job.  On the positive front I was able to get a loop in at my favorite hill training course (Springdale Cemetery).  It has been awhile since the weather cooperated and finally got a chance to run with Ryan to see how our legs fared over the holiday break.  Pretty happy where I’m at, but need to start ramping up the mileage to be ready for the race season that starts in April.  If things keep going as planned, I should have no problem being ready for back to back 5K and half.  What I am little concerned about is finishing my current race against none other than Father Time.  Will be coming down the wire to get all my Texas birding posts outs.

Let’s not waste any more time getting to that task.  Welcome to the blog, the newest bird in my list.

Black Skimmer encountered on Galveston Island, Texas January 2017

That intriguing bird you see is called a Black Skimmer.  I guarantee you will not forget your first encounter with this relative of Gulls and Terns.  One reason for this is you likely will not see just one.  Possibly 2

Black Skimmer encountered on Galveston Island, Texas January 2017

Hit the jump to see and read more about the Skimmers!

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Whistle While You Waddle

How’s it going out there in the blogosphere?  I am starting to feel really good about the Texas production – been some work to get to this point, but clearly on a path to put a serious dent in my birding backlog.  Not to mention, definitely picking up some ground on my brother, although I am taking advantage of his distaste for the cold weather (I keep reminding him how odd that is being that he chooses to live in the Windy City).  Maybe have a large queue of unprocessed trip pictures is a godsend and not a yoke.

How about we do some more den birding.  Back in December 2016 (trust me, my backlog goes several years beyond this), Linda and I stopped off at Conroe, Texas on our way down to South Padre Island.  Guessing this was a good stopping point for a day’s travel as opposed to a specific destination at the time.  For those interested, we found an incredible Mexican restaurant there – major yum.   Since we had some time to spare I looked up some local birding locations.

Whistling Duck found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest, Conroe in Texas December 2016

The William Goodrich Jones State Forest had good reviews and was relatively close.  It also boasted having the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.  I’ve been to several preserves and refuges claiming they host this Pecker, but every time I’ve come up empty tinned.  This happens to be an oddly situated park.  There’s an apartment complex on the side of it (at the main pull off entrance) and a sizeable (and busy) road cutting right through it.  To be honest, I really didn’t have too high of hopes for finding anything decent.  My optimism for the Pecker has since devolved into pure pessimism.  I’m always up for a good hike, so grabbed the Beast and headed out to explore.

Whistling Duck found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest, Conroe in Texas December 2016

There was a small pond as you first come into the forest.  I saw some activity on it from the RV, but again, didn’t really think much about it – probably some Mallards splashing around or Coots practicing their walk on water bar trick.  Every experience that moment when something catches your peripheral vision, but doesn’t really process until you’ve taken a few more steps.  Slowly the mind sorts through the grey matter until it finds some piece of stored data it can relate this new input – maybe I am just getting old and my processor is getting long in the tooth.  As it came into focus I even stopped walking to re-run the quick sort algorithm – Bird->Water->Duck->No Green->Not Mallard->Partial Black->Not a Coot->Orange Bill->Merganser->Black Eye->Not Merganser WHAT?

Whistling Duck found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest, Conroe in Texas December 2016

Hit the jump to read more about this musical duck!

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Coming to Your Emotional Rescue

Welcome back to check mark January!  As a recap, this month has brought with us 9 new birds and an additional sub-species.  Haven’t been this productive at the beginning of the year since I ran Project Chekov back in January 2014.  26 consecutive bird posts featuring at least one bird named with that day’s consecutive letter (link here).  Now that was a chore, figuring out at least one bird for each letter and then hunting pictures down.  The letter Q was quite the challenge and had to bend the rules just a bit to cover the letter U (thank god for zoos on that one).  Not going to make it to 26 this month, but I can get us to 10!

White-Tailed Kite Shot at Galveston Texas State Park in December 2016

Having just recently featured another bird of prey, thought it was fitting to bring you an additional cool feathered killer.  This sinister looking bird is a White-Tailed Kite.  Some birds shots are obtained by canvasing particular areas in hopes of spotting something interesting from the vehicle (some like my brother Ron would consider this the absolutely best method for winter birding).  Other finds come from getting your shoes dirty, braving briar and defending against the mosquito horde just to get a glimpse of a rare lost bird.  Both methods produce the same check in the book, but clearly one has a better experience than the other aka – blogger gold hehehe.  Interesting enough, this sighting didn’t bring with it that much effort.

White-Tailed Kite Shot at Galveston Texas State Park in December 2016

Hit the jump to learn more about this Kite!

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Friends in Low Places

Greetings everyone!  Back from my trip up north and therefore now have access to my personal bird reference library.   What to do, what to do… oh, how about a post featuring another new check on my North American birding list.  My count has received a serious steroid injection this month thanks to some very productive trips to the Lone Star state.

Crested Caracara shot in Rockport, Texas December 2016

This particular find was encountered while visiting Rockport, Texas back in December 2016.  Specifically, this was located in a small coastal neighborhood near Goose Island State Park.  We became acquainted with this area thanks to a very friendly and helpful hotel clerk we befriended on a previous trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  We were bummed we had not spotted a particular bird while checking out the refuge earlier in the day.  Noting our disappointment she bestowed an extremely useful piece of information. We’ve been every visit since then.

Crested Caracara shot in Rockport, Texas December 2016

Hit the jump to read more about “The King”

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My Crested Style Fu is Superior to Your Pelikido

It appears I finally broke my consecutive post streak.  Was on a roll thanks to outside forces driving me to get through as much of the Texas related birding encounters as possible.  Deadline is still there, I just had the opportunity to enjoy a guilty pleasure this weekend – I happen to be part of a top ranking fake group on Rock Band and we were able to get the band together Friday.  It has been awhile and we were all a bit rusty.  We had a great time even though my arms are now sore from the night of drumming – I may have to start warming up before we play now eesh.  Before you laugh at me too much, we have put our computer engineering skills to good use – our singer has modified a real mic and I have a full electronic Roland drum set that feeds through an Ion head to a midi converter to now an Xbox-360 to Xbox-One pigtail converter and then to the console.  Thinking that still isn’t helping my case any ha!   Reality of it all is I am now trying to get back in the posting saddle.  Thanks to having to do this while traveling on the road, thought I would go with a post that doesn’t need a lot of research – had to leave my reference books at home.

Today’s featured post comes to you courtesy of Seawolf Park near Galveston Texas.  We were visiting that location for the first time back in January 2017 which produced a number of intriguing experiences.  While hunting for dolphins from their wharf, I spotted a Double-Crested Cormorant looking tauntingly at a nearby Brown Pelican.  Screw the dolphins, this might turn out quite interesting.

Double-Crested Cormorant and Brown Pelican tangle at Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

Slowly their paths converged.  An entire gulf of water to explore, yet each one refusing to yield their path to the other.   Hubris had once again taken root in its victims giving false confidence to its host.  So there it stood, the formidable Crested-Fu style of the Cormorant paired off against the more physically dominating Pelikido of the larger bodied Brown Pelican.  Surely cooler heads wood prevail – maybe a respectful bow and mutual diversion of their conflicting trajectories.

NOPE!

Double-Crested Cormorant and Brown Pelican tangle at Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

Hit the jump to see how this angry bird encounter turns out!

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Gaining My Marbles

I almost went with “A Wasted Endeavor” for the title of this post, however, my not so clever play on losing my marbles won out in the end.  A little insight into the inner workings around here at Intrigued – there’s one key ingredient that brings it all together.  Sure, the foundation of it all relies on being able to make it out in the field and discover content to feature.  Then there’s the digital darkroom where I try to make everything as pretty as I can for you.  There’s close to three years of outings in the queue that I am desperately trying to get through (thus the more than usual production as of late).  Have to get everything uploaded to the galleries in order to reference into the posts and then the actual finger pounding the keyboard to give it all context.  The fact is, all of those elements require a bit of effort on my part.  Not exactly the effort you might be thinking of …

Marbled Godwit shot on Bolivar Peninsula Texas January 2017

I’m talking about the effort involved in trying to maintain your sanity being a distance runner.  Trust me, people like me who feel guilty when not meeting the mileage quota for the week probably need some therapy – “Hello, my name is Brian and I am a Runner.  [all] Hello Brian.”  To keep myself from thinking about every step during the run, I set my mind to planning out the next post.  What is worth my reader’s time, what interesting photographs do have that will give life to that topic and the most important element – what is the title going to be.  It is downright embarrassing how many miles I cover thinking about that component.  Hardest part is being able to remember what I came up with by the time I hit the stopwatch.  To be honest, it really is a giant life circle.  I exercise so I can go into the field, hike all day with heavy equipment, take photos to bring back and then use my exercise time to put it all together.  Wash, Rinse, Repeat.  Honestly, there isn’t anything I’d rather be doing to pass my free time than out in the wild staring down the barrel of large glass at a new bird for my North American Birding List.  In retrospect, that seems like a long intro to simply introduce the first Marble in my collection.

Marbled Godwit shot on Bolivar Peninsula Texas January 2017

Hit the jump to learn more about this tall wader.

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A Telling White Line

Well,  I’ve just turned another year older which always brings an immediate reaction of “where the hell did that year go!”.  Every year I set my sights on getting a bunch of stuff accomplished like finally getting caught up on my photography queue and designing out that cool Halloween decoration I’ve been mulling over the past 6 months.  Then I wake up to Linda wishing me a happy birthday and bam, another cold flounder up across the face – crap, my queue is still three years deep and although I did get to a record number of Halloween props for this year’s haunted trail… I know I could have done more – what a slacker.  Definitely need to recommit myself to being more productive.  One area that has been going well as of late is my bird count.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

That there is the latest addition to my checklist.  Should be assumed by now, but this sleek black bird comes to you courtesy of the Texas Gulf Coast.  In particular, this addition was made in the Galveston Island area.  These initial specimens were spotted in the Galveston Island State Park while on a birding trip back in January 2017.  At the time I thought I was simply filling up my digital card with more pictures of Double-Crested Cormorants.  These interesting looking birds are fairly common at waterways across all of the United States at some point during the year.  When they are not riding the waves, they are generally just hanging around on docks and poles enjoying the lazy day – might even see them with their wings splayed out trying to get them to dry in the sun.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about this new addition.

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Cha Cha Cha Went the Birdy’s Feet

Hope everyone is keeping warm wherever you happen to be.  The Midwest is once again on a freezer lockdown as the temps plummet again into single digits.  As I tell people, I really do not have a leg to stand on being that I choose to live in a state that experiences all of the seasons – the good with the bad, the perfects to the extremes.  The irony of it all is Linda was quick to inform me tonight about the weather conditions in the very region we have been featuring this month, Texas.  While we were down there over Christmas break, the temps were unseasonably cold.  We went all the way to the Rio Grande and I didn’t get the chance to wear shorts once.   The mercury essentially hung in the high 30s low 40s cresting once into the mid 50’s on the last day we were there.  Don’t feel bad for us, our home town was experiencing -22 windchill.  Our friends accused us of bringing the cold down to Texas and yes, it did warm up to mid 70’s the day after we left.   Guess what, it is snowing in the Corpus Christie area and the windchill temps at South Padre are 18.  Based on the covering we saw for 40’s, my guess is the locals were raiding grocery stores and bundled up like the kid in A Christmas Story.

Thanks to the web, you get to experience our latest southern Texas bird from the comfort of your home.

Plain Chachalaca shot at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Freson Texas in January 2017

That rather strange looking bird is not a chicken although Cornell did imply it was a chicken relative.  It isn’t a color deficient Peacock either. This happens to be a Plain Chachalaca.  I can say without a doubt this is one of Linda’s least favorite birds to encounter in the wild – at least when I am around.  For some reason the name makes me laugh.  Upon initial discovery of the name, I thought it was pronounced Chawkalawka.  Channeling my inner child this was uttered in a deep long drawn out verbalization – think lost rainforest tribe dancing around a fire chanting to the fire gods.  Every time Linda and I encountered one I was obligated to inform Linda of its arrival by repeating my new tribal influence moniker. Chaw Ka La Ka Chaw Ka La Ka Chaw Ka La Ka Ugga Ooga-chaka, ooga-ooga hooked on feeling I’m high on believing that you’re in love with me.  

Plain Chachalaca shot at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Freson Texas in January 2017

Hit the jump to find out more about the Plain Chachalaca.

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Another Find in Sticky Mud

If you have not noticed yet, I am definitely trying to make the most of the extended holiday weekend.  It is amazing how much more you can get accomplished with 24 additional hours to consume – not to mention the weather down in the teens with a good wind punching up the chill factor tends to keep me inside in the warm den.  Most of you should know by now, ever since starting the sister site Wildlife Intrigued, I try to keep my social interactions/observations/commentaries out of the wildlife related posts preferring to keep those dedicated posted only on the Life Intrigued flagship site.  However, there are times when those experiences are too intriguing (in this case read hilarious) that I can’t wait.  As a quick one, my wife recently placed an order at a local pizza joint.  This particular establishment has odd sizes for their orders always prompting a discussion on what size we should order just for the two of us.  I heard her ask the order taker on the phone for assistance on the average number of people a particular size offering could feed.  She then went silent with a quizzical look on her face followed by a muffled chuckle.  She later told me the reason for the reaction – the clerk indicated he wasn’t sure, “but it does come in eight pieces”.   I’ll let that sink in a bit if the humor hasn’t already materialized.

Meanwhile, how about we get to the real feature of post.

White-Tailed Hawk shot while leaving Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas January 2095

No surprise here, ANOTHER birding find from our trip to Texas back in January 2017.   Like the last post on the Altamira Oriole, this new addition to my birding list comes to us courtesy of Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge.  Thanks to an overheard response by the ranger at the visitor center, we now refer to this birding hotspot as the Sticky Mud Lagoon.  A visitor wanted to know what Atascosa stood for…a question we had never thought to ask.  Now we all know thanks to a knowledgeable employee.  This southwestern Buteo became quite the stumper when trying to ID it.  The rufous coloring on the shoulders initially led me down the Red-Shouldered Hawk path.

 

White-Tailed Hawk shot while leaving Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas January 2095

The rather clear white breast left a lot of skepticism once I had confirmed the Red-Shouldered has a fairly barred chest and lot more streaking on top of the wings.  A quick search of southern hawks produced the possibility of the Harris’s Hawk. The region was localized to the south Texas region, so that was a positive.  Definitely has the red shouldering, but based on reference shots of that particular Buteo, it appeared the marking on the Harris’s is significantly larger than the patch on our specimen.  A quick validation of the chest coloring knocked that ID out of contention.  The Harris’s sports a dark breast and carries the reddish coloring down through the leg feathering.  I am pretty familiar with the Hawks in the Midwest and those encountered out west.  The large size (larger than the common Red-Tailed) of this one and more solid markings were not aligning.  Opting to look at each and every Hawk in my reference books, eventually came to the conclusion that this particular specimen was likely a White-Tailed Hawk.  This was initially dismissed because the reference book shots has the long wings moved off of the tail giving me the impression the tail was always visible and distinctively white.  In reality they have very long pointed wings that do hide their white tail feature.  There is also a black tail band near the tip.  If you look closely at the two pictures above you will just barely see it between the twigs of the tree.  Fairly certain on my end, I sent it off for confirmation from my brother Ron.  His first response was “Red-Shouldered” which prompted a recounting of the process that got me to the White-Tailed.  Upon further analysis and some dead on reference shots on the web we are now in complete agreement – a new +1 and yes, another bird Ron will have to make an effort to catch up on.  For reference, here is the backside of the Hawk showing the fairly solid coloring and those long tapered wings.

White-Tailed Hawk shot while leaving Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas January 2095

Linda and I encountered this bird on the way out of the refuge.  The day was coming to a close, but following my golden rule, of “If you see it, shoot it”, made Linda pull to the side so I could get a few shots in the tin – thus the limited perspectives.  I already covered some of the unique aspects of this new bird.  To add a couple more facts, the white tail and black band is unique for Buteos in North America – had I been able to get an inflight shot, the ID could have been a lot easier.  They seem to be the Hawk with the largest latitude span extending down into the Caribbeans.  Lastly, juveniles have a 15% longer tail than adults – their tail feathers are not able to cover that length completely.  Our specimen besides being very large, had sufficient coverage indicating it is indeed an adult.

That’s all I have for you on this particular bird.  Hope you enjoyed reading about my latest addition.  Now regarding the conversation on pizza size.  I hope you realize by now, that the number 8 is the standard cut format for pizzas – half, half, mid slices which always produces … wait for it … 8 slices regardless of the size of the pizza and thus why my math major wife found it so amusing.

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